Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never Forget?

September 11, 2013—the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City. 

Many people have been posting images of gently rippling American flags or upright parallel lines representing the demolished twin towers of the World Trade Center.  They all seem to embrace this simple phrase:

“Never Forget.”

Never forget?  Any American who was over the age of eight in 2001 will never forget that day. (I was eight years old when JFK was assassinated, and it’s one of the clearest memories of my childhood.)  So let’s assume that none of us will forget the fear and horror we felt on 9/11/2001, aided by dumbstruck media that could think of nothing to do but play the most frightening images of the attack over and over and over to a disbelieving, mesmerized public.  Those images are branded on our collective subconscious.  

So why this persistent admonition to “Never forget?” 

Seriously, there are things about that day and the months following that I would be more than happy to forget.  I would love to forget the anger, the wrath, the bloodlust, the mindless quest for revenge that gripped the American people in the aftermath of the attack.  A bloodlust egged on by a ruthless regime with a secret agenda, a regime that could barely refrain from licking its lips that world events had played so conveniently into its hand.  A quest for revenge brought to a fever pitch by media addicted to all things sensational and controversial—exploiting anything possible to make a buck.  A demand for vengeance that spurred us to assault and destroy a country that had nothing to do with those responsible for the attack on our soil.   

I would love to forget the in-your-face nationalism that spread across America, the kind that made you stop and look over your shoulder before you expressed anything that might possibly be construed as “traitorous” if there were strangers within earshot.   

I would love to forget the post-9/11 canonization of George W. Bush as the “War President,” and the carte-blanche handed his administration by an American people desperate for moral leadership in a time of national crisis.  Bush and his cronies so failed in this regard that it hardly bears thinking about, much less never forgetting.

 I would love to forget that 9/11 was a key tool used by nefarious forces to exaggerate opposing opinions among the American electorate, and to ramp up the volume and violence of the political rhetoric across a widening ideological divide between “right” and “left.”

Looking now at these things I would love to forget…I realize that these are indeed the aspects of the 9/11 tragedy that America at large has forgotten.  And that these…THESE are the things that we must not forget.  Because these are the mistakes we made, blinded by shock and sorrow and anger.  Understandable mistakes.  Forgivable mistakes.  But only forgivable if we do not forget, so that we do not make the same mistakes again.

As for the anniversary, in addition to “never forgetting” the blunders we made as a nation and a society in the aftermath of 9/11, why not choose “honor?”

Honor the dead.

Honor the heroes.

Honor those who came together to try to heal the great pain of a battered city, of a wounded nation.

If we elect to “honor” anniversaries such as this, we stand a better chance of learning, of growing, indeed of surviving as a nation. 

Let us choose honor.   

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dear Mr. President

I think everyone knows I can be counted upon to have a strong response to political questions facing our nation today.  In the past few weeks, I've been flitting around the internet, leaving "opinion droppings" on Facebook pages and NPR news stories.  Eventually I felt compelled to craft a letter to the president.  Here it is:

Dear Mr. President:

I’m sure you’ve received a deluge of letters from citizens concerned about the Syria situation.  I can’t hope that mine will even reach your eyes, much less change the course of events by a micro-millimeter.  Still, I would not be doing my duty as a citizen of the United States, and a human being, if I didn’t add mine to the millions of voices crying out for a non-military response to the use of sarin on non-combatants in Syria.

I’m not one of those who will assert that no “red line" has been crossed by the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Of course a line has been crossed.   Chemical weapons are truly some of the most frightening weapons of mass destruction invented by man.  Nuclear weapons, while deadly and devastating, serve as their own deterrent.   But chemicals are the stuff of science fiction doomsday scenarios:   weapons that kill people while leaving the real estate intact.  They seem perfectly designed to be unleashed on the faceless masses never considered entirely human by despotic rulers.  The world needs to enforce the ban of these weapons, and to punish regimes that use them.

That being said, I believe we have to examine two things about a response to the sarin attack in Syria:  who needs to respond, and what the response should be. 

The answer to the first question is, “The world  needs to respond.”  Chemical weapons threaten the entire world, not just the United States.  Unfortunately, in this case, the world appears to have tired of war, at least in the Middle East, with its political, religious and economic entanglements.  The global sentiment seems to have settled upon two reactions:  1.) non-response in order not to interrupt the flow of oil out of/arms into the area and 2.) non-response with a sort of “Let them go ahead and kill each other and good riddance to them” attitude.  It is also unfortunate that, since 2003, the foreign policy of the United States herself has helped demonstrate that military entanglements in that area do not end well.  Is it any wonder no one wants to get involved?

But the world must be made to understand that use of WMDs on non-combatants cannot be ignored.  As nation after nation violates that treaty with no significant reaction from the global community, the use of chemical weapons will expand.  This is NOT a “Ho-hum, it’s their problem” moment.  Someone has to take that message to the world, Mr. President.  I believe you and Secretary of State Kerry can fill that role.  You have substantially more political capital on the international scene than you do here at home.  I beg you to use it.  BE the protector of the innocent.  Make that case to world leaders.  Do not give up until they listen.

Now, let’s examine the world’s response to the use of chemical weapons.  What should it be?  Frankly, I don’t know.  I don’t think we have yet crafted appropriate punishments for world leaders who step out of the bounds of “humane” warfare (if ever there was a contradiction in terms, that is it…)  How can a military response be appropriate?  How can killing and destruction be counted upon to stop killing and destruction? Here in this country, we’ve adopted the philosophy that if you hit a child who does wrong, all that teaches the child is how to hit.  How much more can this apply to interactions between nations of the world?  We have to step away from the “Might Makes Right” default reaction to global injustice.

The United States is, arguably, the biggest fish in the pond right now.  Though the foreign policy high jinks of the Bush administration considerably damaged our reputation around the world, I do not believe it is impossible to polish our tarnished reputation and take a message of the strength of peace to the global community.  Perhaps the world needs to stand in solidarity to aid the Syrian people in the least military way possible.  Instead of shaking our fists and pounding on the rogue leaders, perhaps we need to focus our efforts upon stretching out those hands to aid the innocent.

Bombing and missiles do not aid the innocent.  Economic sanctions don’t either.  What is the answer?  I don’t know.  But there are people out there—yourself included—who are more learned about world politics than I.  We the People count upon YOU to make every effort to think outside the box, to not fall back upon the same tired old military and economic “solutions” that don’t solve anything.  We are counting upon you to craft a plan.  Not just a response. 

Thank you, Mr. President.  I believe we can depend upon you to do the right thing.